"Who uses our products?"
"Who might we be missing or overlooking?"
"How could we better anticipate the needs of more folks?"
These and many other user-focused questions drive the work of UXRs. Questions about ease of use, delight in experience, and areas of growth are core to a human-centered design practice. The UXD team at Lenovo has been thinking about these questions a lot lately. They create software and hardware solutions for a range of users and the UXD team—like the broader UX community—seeks to inject empathy into product and engineering decisions.
Recently, Lenovo codified a mission to expand how product teams think about who they're innovating for, as defined in their company vision to lead and enable ‘Smarter Technology for All’. Specifically, the mission is to spotlight diversity, access, and inclusion earlier and more frequently across the product research and insights processes. Lenovo believes that designing products with these critical considerations in mind will not only empower and engage more people, but will improve the experiences of current users.
This case story explores Lenovo's focus on accessibility, diversity, and inclusion in research from two altitudes. The first is from the strategic level (speaking with Matt Geary Senior Manager of UXD Research and Insights), for a peek at how mission becomes practice, and the second from the tactical (speaking with Dana Gierdowski, Senior Manager of UXD User Research), where the practice meets the research designs. This twin look offers a rare glimpse into how innovative, user-centric companies like Lenovo are aligning teams to shared goals and creating impact through user research.
A product culture focused on access, diversity, and inclusion
Matt: Our leadership started asking questions about how we might put our mottos and missions into action tactically. The core company vision is "Smarter technology for all," which naturally led our teams in user experience to think about accessibility, diversity, and inclusion.
In order to create visibility and drive movement across our product lines, leadership established the Product Diversity Office (PDO), which helps our research and product teams foreground and weave DEI into our processes systematically. We call this set of practices and the reviews of our work Diversity by Design. Our goal is to get at least 75% of Lenovo products through the PDO review by 2025.
By systematizing it and creating that review process, it gives us the space to ask, "Who might we be missing or not considering with this product?" This affects not only how and who we recruit research participants, but offers us a chance to ask how a thing might work more inclusively. For example, with folks attending meetings virtually more and more, what assumptions might be baked into a camera and how it functions?
The way it registers a person, blurs the areas around them (or not) or interprets their skin, hair, and other outward features. AI technology, 3D cameras...this is cool tech, but might it be overlooking, or how might it be skewing an experience based on a person's appearance? Those are questions we want to surface earlier, before something is in-the-wild.
We also interrogate the physical design of products. How might a traditional keyboard, mouse, or display be challenging for a person with different access needs? It's interesting because we all experience situational disabilities, probably on a daily basis. I have full use of both of my arms, but when I'm holding my daughter and trying to type, that can be really frustrating.
When you imagine that some folks are experiencing this day in and day out, you realize how important it is to be considering their experiences and trying to help. We might, for example, create a voice-based system that uses AI to detect an inability to key something in and offer a different input modality.
When we design for folks with different access needs, when we think more broadly and openly about inclusion, it makes a better experience not just for those folks—which is critical—but for all users. How many folks benefit from closed-captioning? Not just those who are hard-of-hearing or deaf: I use that feature all the time, which is just another example of the benefits for all when we think in access, inclusion, and diversity frames with our products.
Research deliverables that drive empathy and action
Matt: The best kind of data to make a stakeholder sit up in their chair is rich media: specifically audio with video. I could share a number—even a high number!—with a stakeholder expressing how unlikely a person is to repurchase a product, but when I include a video of someone saying, "I had a terrible experience and I am never going to buy this again!" that is a mic drop moment.
Stakeholders usually perk right up and ask, "OK, what do we need to do to make sure that doesn't happen again?" Our teams really care and value how to ensure we’re providing the best user experience possible.
Stats and quotes, even big data sets showing trends just don't pack the punch of a highlight reel showing actual users expressing something—especially frustration—in their own terms. That authenticity cannot be fully captured any other way. Video is just a major mover for folks to more fully recognize the ways a product or experience could be improved, and that wakes folks up.
And this qualitative data helps us paint the full picture, to tell the complete story. If NPS drops over a period of time, how can we start to ask "why?" and start to investigate that trend? The answer is not usually more quantitative, it's those stories, the rich description qualitative data can give.
Numbers and bigger data sets are hugely important to our processes, but without actually hearing from the customer, in their own words, I don't think we'd be making as sharp of decisions as we could...and remember, I'm an engineer by training!
And as an engineer, I know that a single question won't be able to get at the deeper root of an experience or usability problem. it takes four, five, six or more questions during a session to probe, ask clarifications, probe further, and only then you might be starting to understand what's going on. That's critical context for an engineering, product, and design team that qualitative data offers.
The other element I want to mark is that video and other qualitative data lets a person be heard and seen. We heard that a lot with our dscout study on vision needs: Users in that study were so excited to have the chance to share their experience, their thoughts, their needs and the ways in which tech did or did not support them. That builds rapport and trust with the users we want to build products for; that's how you build lifelong customers.
Remote tools like dscout give that affordance: we not only get to hear from customers who might not have before, but they're in the spaces where they make use of our products, which is even more critical context. The best one-on-one interview in a lab is still...in a lab. Does that person use a laptop in a lab-like setting usually? Not likely. By leveraging remote tools, we're able to meet folks where they are, which helps us build product experiences for those spaces and places.
So between the rapport we can build with our users and the different contexts in which we can meet them, we're able to supercharge our commitment to access, inclusion, and diversity, capturing data that helps inform product decisions while ensuring more voices are heard and—importantly—respected.
"The best kind of data to make a stakeholder sit up in their chair is rich media: specifically audio with video."
Senior Manager of UXD Research and Insights, Lenovo
Let's transition to how Lenovo's team translated this mission of access and diversity into their research practices. For this, we'll turn to Dana Gierdowski, Senior Manager of UXD User Research.
Designing research for the visually impaired community
Dana: I've been at Lenovo for just over a year and am part of the growing team supporting projects being conducted in conjunction with the Product Diversity Office Matt discussed earlier.
I have a background in accessibility, so when our industrial designers started asking how we might innovate some of our products to better serve the visually impaired community, I was really excited to take part.
As a qualitative researcher, I especially enjoy the exploratory and generative projects, where we can start capturing that context and lived experience. This work let us not only gain empathy into the spectrum of folks with visual impairments, but as Matt alluded to, it also created a space for this population to engage in a way they might not have before.
There's a saying in the disability community that if you've worked with one person with a disability...you've worked with one person with a disability. Our goal was to educate ourselves on the range of visual impairments and the practical implications those bring to using technology.
The study combined these exploratory elements—which included a co-creative exercise where we asked them to imagine their ideal assistive technology—as well as evaluative elements, where we asked questions that our stakeholders were curious to learn about.
That was the real value of using dscout for this study: We were able to combine approaches and gather a lot of different data to support these different needs. We not only asked folks to share their spaces and their tech setups, but we asked about features and value propositions to judge their engagement. A big takeaway for us was learning about the significant obstacles and barriers folks with visual impairments experience while using today's tech.
In addition to the project-specific learnings were the learnings related to conducting remote research with this population. Elements of research that I'd taken for granted—waving at someone to start a 1:1 interview, sharing screenshots over email to diagnose tech help, using nonverbals during an interview session—were different working with this population.
It was so valuable for our team to think through how our research processes had to change in order to capture the best data and ensure our participants felt welcomed and heard.
This experience helped me not only with this project's specific goals but elevated the considerations I'll make on any study moving forward. It led me to reflect on my own research habits and to again ask, how might I be making it more difficult for a person to feel seen, heard, or share their experience with my research practices. Ultimately, this inclusive UX approach will enable Lenovo to design and innovate for more diverse customers.
"The best one-on-one interview in a lab is still...in a lab.
By leveraging remote tools, we're able to meet folks where they are, which helps us build product experiences for those spaces and places."
Senior Manager of UXD Research and Insights, Lenovo
Dana's research design
We used a two-part approach. In the first, we created more exploratory and discovery-focused activities using Diary. This is where folks shared their spaces, discussed tech they liked and disliked using, and where we got them co-creating their best-case assistive technology.
Unmoderated gave folks the space to answer at their own pace and comfort level. Building that trust and rapport during the Diary mission helped us when it came time for the second part, which was 1:1 interview using Live.
The Diary mission gave us the chance to communicate and message these folks, which helped them get a sense of our personalities, furthering the relationship and trust, which created the space for better data and insights.
During our Live sessions, we drilled down into more granular elements of certain product experiences, using moments they shared during the Diary component. These sessions were so helpful for us to probe, get even more context, and share ideas with scouts in a format that allowed for real-time feedback.
Those sessions produced a wealth of video reels that we combined with quantitative data from the Diary mission. Together it created a compelling and actionable deliverable that really helped set the tone for our stakeholders.
As Matt also mentioned, it was such a rewarding project because, during the Live sessions, many scouts said how grateful they were for the time, space, and moment to share their experiences. Unprovoked we heard from participants many times how thankful they were to have the space to share, which again, is just not something we could have captured with traditional quantitative study designs. We included many of these in our final share-outs to further drive home the value designing with accessibility, inclusion, and belonging in mind can have.
These elements are not "nice-to-haves," but are table-stakes to ensuring the widest possible group of people can make use of the smarter technologies we're building at Lenovo. Video data is critical in reinforcing that.
"Unprovoked, we heard from participants many times how thankful they were to have the space to share, which again, is just not something we could have captured with traditional quantitative study designs."
Senior Manager of UXD User Research, Lenovo
Dana's recommendations for starting an accessibility practice
Do your homework about the diverse needs of the community that will be participating in your research
Disability is not a monolith, and the lived experiences, accessibility requirements, and tech preferences of users range widely even if they happen to have similar conditions. This spectrum of experiences and needs should be considered at every stage of the study design, but educating yourself is the first step.
Read articles and watch videos. Follow accessibility advocates (#a11y) on social media (e.g., #DisabilityAwareness, #AutismAcceptance, #DeafAwareness, #blind, #WheelChairUser) to better understand varying perspectives, cultures, and barriers.
If available, tap into your organization’s resources like diversity/accessibility offices and employee resource groups for individuals with disabilities and their allies. We’ve also had success with conducting “pre-research,” where we have informal, conversational interviews with users to better understand the kinds of questions and considerations we need to factor into our study design.
Inventory your practices, processes, and platforms
If using online research platforms, talk with reps about how accessible their platforms are for users with varying needs and who use different kinds of assistive technologies. Even if a platform is compliant with the most recent web content accessibility guidelines, it still may not offer an inclusive experience for some individuals with disabilities.
When designing a study, be open, flexible, and prepared to offer users inclusive options and/or accommodations so that they can submit responses and participate in ways that work best for them. For example, in an unmoderated diary study, a user who has a visual impairment may prefer to record audio-only responses, whereas a participant who is d/Deaf may prefer to type or record themselves signing their response if they communicate with a sign language.
Stay flexible, open, and curious
Allow more time to conduct accessibility research. Given these additional segments, we now double our timelines for recruiting participants. Working with vendors who specialize in recruiting individuals with disabilities can help reduce lead times and connect you with participants who are often engaged and enthusiastic about sharing their experiences and perspectives.
Additional time may also be needed for data collection if users need alternate ways of participating. Some participants may require more time to do study tasks if they use assistive technologies, have limited mobility, need additional processing or “think time”, or use different forms of communication (such as lip reading or signing for individuals who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing).
Ben is the product evangelist at dscout, where he spreads the “good news” of contextual research, helps customers understand how to get the most from dscout, and impersonates everyone in the office. He has a doctorate in communication studies from Arizona State University, studying “nonverbal courtship signals”, a.k.a. flirting. No, he doesn’t have dating advice for you.